ETHEL REMEMBERS

MISS ETHEL LOOKER REMEMBERS


Ethel Hilda Looker was born in 1900, and her family had one of the shops in Five Oak Green. A Sunday School teacher at the Congregational Church, she was a well-respected local character, known to all. Such was the regard in which she was held it was Miss Looker who was invited to perform the opening ceremony of the Village Hall.

In an undated, but probably around 1967, newsletter of the Capel Sports & Social Club, she recorded her memories in a short item entitled Capel 60 Years Ago:-


"Capel Parish is situated on a part of the Pilgrims Way and it is said that St. Thomas a Becket rested on the mound at Capel Church. There are now only two of the original five oaks in Five Oak Green - one by the Wheelwrights and the other in the garden of Oak House.

The building on the railway bridge was the old Congregational Church and was rebuilt on its present site in 1908, the foundation stone of which was laid on the 6th of June of that year, and the new Church opened in the October. The oldest house in the Parish is probably Badsell Manor and legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I slept there. Badsell Manor and Oak Cottage (now called Tudeley House) are two of several sixteenth century buildings, in fact Stream Cottage must also be quite ancient.

In the early days of this century the village boasted three grocer and drapery shops, an off-licence and confectioners, a shoe repair shop, a post office, a blacksmith and wheelwright. In addition to these facilities there were two butchers and the animals, for which, were brought along the road by men called drovers. On Mondays they delivered the pigs, and very often that was when the fun started, for as they reached the gate, sensing their doom, the pigs would suddenly turn around and run back up the road - and couldn't they run!

There was no playing field as such, but cricket was played on the present field lent by Mrs. W. H. Holman. The Scout Hut was then known as the Institute and a men's club was held every night, when billiards and darts were played.

On Tuesdays and Fridays the carrier's van went to Tunbridge Wells carrying passengers. A carrier had a horse drawing a light cart, used to transport goods and passengers from one point to another, each village having a central point for picking up and putting down. In addition to the service to Tunbridge Wells it was possible to go by carrier to Maidstone on a Thursday and by horse-drawn bus to Tonbridge twice a day.

Horses and carts were seen frequently and some were quite grand, taking families out into the surrounding countryside. Teams of farm horses proudly driven by the waggoners were to be seen on their way to the annual Ploughing Match.

The Flower Show was a great day in the Parish and people would travel from miles around to attend. Another special event was the Hospital Sunday Parade which had the attraction of bands and banners.

The majority of men and women worked in the fields, the women taking their babies with them in hand carriages which were constructed by the wheelwrights made entirely of wood - even the wheels.

At harvesting time a thresher would visit the surrounding farms in turn, threshing the corn, peas etc., and when not in use stood between the Post Office and the wheelwrights (the Post Office then is now the empty shop by the village green).

In September of every year the population was more than doubled. This was due to the influx of hop pickers and by the gypsies selling their lace and pegs. The hop pickers arrived at Paddock Wood in special trains from London, and could be seen pushing their belongings on prams or boxes on wheels from the station. They generally arrived at about 3 a.m. looking tired and bedraggled. However, a few weeks of country air improved their health considerably.

Living conditions for these workers on the farms left much to be desired and there were many accidents. It was about this time that a vicar from Stepney came down and saw the conditions. He returned to London and gathering about him a band of helpers, including nurses, came back and worked among the people distributing tea and cakes in the hopfields. A cottage was rented and used as a temporary hospital".


Notes:-

There is no evidence that Thomas Becket visited Capel, still less rested at the church, which will not have been dedicated to him until after his death in 1170.

Similarly, it is highly improbable that either of the oak trees Ethel Looker mentions were among those which gave their name to Five Oak Green. That name was recorded in the early 17th century, and neither tree can be that old. Although the tree by the wheelwrights has long gone, it appears in several photographs. This is just another local legend.

The Congregational Church referred to is now the United Reform Church in Badsell Road.

The Holman family formally gave the playing field to the village in 1932.

The Institute, later used as the Scout Hut, was demolished in 2017 and a house built on the site.

The Post Office Miss Looker speaks of used to stand where Forge Cottages are now, i.e. opposite the present Post Office.

One wonders if the hop pickers really did arrive at 3 a.m. 3 p.m. would seem more likely.

The "vicar from Stepney" was Father Wilson, who established the Hoppers Hospital.